The above GIF of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Captain William T. Riker have been making their way around Tumblr lately. Among TNG fans, the inexplicable emergence of Riker’s beard in Season Two of the series actually marked a pivotal moment in its history: An Urban Dictionary entry with 125 upvotes and 3 downvotes defines a Riker’s beard as “The opposite of jump the shark, i.e. when a TV show goes from unspectacular/boring/outlandish to completely awesome. It references Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was unspectacular until season 2, when Commander Riker grew a beard. The show kicked ass from then on.” (Another UD entry defines Riker Syndrome as when a person “only looks good with a beard.”)
The full story behind the iconic beard, which basically stemmed from TNG star Jonathan Frakes deciding he didn’t feel like shaving anymore:
Sometime between 2364 and 2365, Riker grew a beard because he was tired of people always telling him how young he looked. (TNG: “The Child”, “The Pegasus”) He also felt the beard was a proud, ancient tradition and a symbol of strength. However, he did not see it as an affectation and would not be opposed to shaving it; he had just gotten used to it. (TNG: “The Quality of Life”) He briefly shaved it in 2375 after he resumed his relationship with Deanna Troi. (Star Trek: Insurrection)
Jonathan Frakes grew the beard during the hiatus before TNG‘s second season as he dislikes shaving. He returned to rehearsal before shaving it. The producers liked the change and asked him to keep the beard, although a fictional reason was not given until five years later.